There is no better platform to enforce standing up to harmful traditional practices like child marriage and female circumcision than at community level.
This was the unanimous opinion of speakers at a standing up against Female genital mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) conference at Enfield in London last Friday.
The community is crucial in the sense that it is formed of the real victims of these practices who should be empowered to take leadership on the issues directly affecting them. Moreover, community leadership is fundamental to sustainable programmes that will prevent any recap of harmful traditional practices once they are finally eradicated.
According to the United Kingdom’s Under Secretary of State for International Development Baroness Lindsay Northover female circumcision displays extreme manifestation of gender inequality. She opines that if no action is taken a further 30 million girls will be at risk in the next decade. She suggests that by accepting uncircumcised women as complete women, the practice will be curtailed in due time.
In the UK, there have been suggestions for mandatory reporting of suspected FGM/C by medical practitioners. The House of Commons Committee on home affairs 2014 report on FGM/C suggests that mandatory reporting will help to locate the crime the earlier it is done.
FGM/C survivor and campaigner Hibo Wardere expresses the point that many medical practitioners and those in the education sector do not want to get involve while award winning anti FGM/C activist and psychotherapist Leyla Hussein highlights the different forms of mental disorders women affected by FGM/C have presented with at her clinic.
In the UK, there has yet been any conviction while there have been only two prosecutions so far, with one discharge and another ongoing. A major issue with getting prosecution is that the practice occurs in high secrecy. Moreover, until recently the practice was not a debatable issue in many countries and in societies where it is practiced, it is abominable to discuss it.
Apparently, communities go with the ‘my brother’s keeper’ flow and for them prosecuting is equal to betrayal of communal trust. Lots of people are also wary of reporting for fear of the implications to families and communities. For instance by reporting, the parents will be prosecution and subsequently convicted and imprisoned. What will happen to the children? Put in care? Every child deserves to be brought by those who love them. And placing them in care will consequently impact on them psychologically and a further issue for society to deal with.
Detective constable Sarah Wood from the metropolitan police mentions that FGM/C causes significant harm to children and women. According to wood women cannot consent to FGM/C. This brings us to the ongoing debates of whether female genital surgery should also be classed in the same vein as FGM/C. Keith Vas, head of the committee on Home affairs on a January 29th 2015 house of commons debates on the FGM/C report states that genital surgery must be criminalized just like FGM/C. He stresses the fact that ignoring this displays a double standard on the part of authorities and campaigners.
However the Home affairs committee 2014 report on FGM/C recommends a system that will empower medical professionals to make periodic FGM/C assessments where a girl is at a high risk. The committee notes that the number of referrals by health care professionals was extremely poor. It emphasizes the need for education and continued professional development training. Recommendation on Paragraph 45 states:
"When a woman is identified as having undergone FGM or being from a country where FGM is practiced, then her daughters, future children, younger sisters and other younger female family members should be considered at risk, and preventative measures put in place.” The committee notes that there is “no consistent approach for identifying at-risk girls and monitoring them throughout their childhood.” The committee recommends that the FGM/C status of the mother and intentions for her unborn female child be made a compulsory ante-natal question."
My concern with this specific recommendation is that it may be interpreted as discrimination. And the fact is most women who have undergone the practice had it done on them as children and they may not be in supporters of the practice. Having undergone FGM/C should not signify an intention to perform it on an offspring/offsprings.
Therefore, such suggestions may be interpreted as discrimination against practicing communities. Already, ethnic and minority communities in the West that practice FGM/C are already viewing western strategy to curtail the practice as an attack on their identity; especially the Somali community that practice infibulation. Suffice to say, a lack of strategic and utterly serious measure to dealing with FGM/C in the UK maybe described as racist and discriminatory. This is evidenced in the fact that major institutions such as the police, medical practitioners and even schools have been very ‘passive’ in dealing with the issue for fear of being tagged racist or discriminatory.
Culture is intrinsic to the everyday life of people and in order to get a full grasp of FGM/C we must endeavour to understand the value communities which practice FGM/C put on culture. Naturally, people carry their culture with them and this is evident in the way the African diaspora communities do handle certain issues including domestic abuse, religion and other practices inherently culture.
Furthermore, we must try to understand the patriarchy involve in the sexuality of women and as Founder and head of the African well woman clinic at Guys and St. Thomas’s Hospital Dr Comfort Momoh asks; Why does it always has to be women? Why are men not subjected to any surgery to cure disorders like masturbation? FGM/C is a very sensitive issue and we must try to understand the sensitivity in order to map out ways of ensuring that no female child is forced to undergo the practice.